The Snow Queen – Festival Theatre

Based on the Hans Christian Andersen

Choreography by Christopher Hampson

Design by Lez Brotherston

Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Reworking the timeless tale by Hans Christian Anderson, no doubt borrowing from Walt Disney’s adaptation of the story, Scottish Ballet continues into the closure of its 50th anniversary with The Snow Queen. In this version, the deviating story merges aspects of the seven shorter parables into one another, with the Summer Princess taking on aspects of the little robber girl, and Gerda and Kai growing in age and becoming lovers, rather than friends/siblings.

Thawing, there isn’t quite the bitter pang of emotion which ought to be present. Compiling a trio of narratives, that of a travelling circus, a fortune teller and The Snow Queen’s narrative itself, the dance seems to fall into a secondary stance in pursuit of a story which is never fully realised. Rather than telling the story of an all-powerful Queen, with an enchanted mirror which shatters, casting a tiny fragment into a young boy’s eye and freezing his heart, becomes an irregular mingle of relationships, which attempts to focus on too many connections, straining each one.

Absent from the original, the Summer Princess, who goes by Lexi is a noted inclusion, and at first, the sisterly relationship of the production offers inspiration, but the character feels flat. Nothing at fault of Grace Paulley, who conveys a lightness which captures her role well, rather Lexi’s motivation, when given a glimpse of a potential future with Kai, seems hollow. At first, we seem unsure of who to support, Gerda the lover of Kai, who seems frosty, or Lexi, a Princess who seeks a life outside of her sister’s cold embrace, when really, it should be Lexi and her sister’s relationship we focus on.

Ferocious, Constance Devernay has a conviction as the Snow Queen, transitioning from rationale, cold and methodical in movement, to a more flirtatious, open posture with icicle-like precision in where her footwork. Devernay is a marvel when given the opportunity, but again, The Snow Queen herself has fleeting moments where the character feels out of place in her narrative. She is neither victim nor villain, hinderance or redeemer. Yet, her place at Anderson’s subversive narrative of sexual repression and risqué judgements, Devernay’s ‘awakening’ of Kai all hints as a profounder ballet. In the final moments however, clumsily grasping at her sister’s embrace/assault (we’re not sure which), The Snow Queen ends, not with glacial purity, but with a thawing frost.

Framing The Snow Queen with a jagged effect, it’s a creative concept which fails in one significant regard. As the Snow Queen and Summer Princess quarrel and peek into the human world, this splintering at the base of the stage obstructs their feet. Perhaps a personal qualm, an inability to see our principal’s footwork is an obscure choice in staging. Otherwise, Lez Brotherston’s design work for the production is sumptuous, conveying a frozen sense of time and framing the productions most exquisite scenes.

Picturesque, this band of performers, many who have previously played circus workers in the first act, get a firmer root in the gypsy clan. Scottish Ballet melds a contemporary feel, with hints of eastern European folk, combining crowd numbers and earthier movements than one would associate with Ballet. Fortune Teller Roseanna Leney has a firmer command with her brief time of stage than sadly some of our principal dancers can manifest. Her character’s richness, strutting Infront of the naked branches of winter, with the regal purple sky hanging above – it’s an entirely perfect scene which echoes what could have been a flawless production.

Between the blossoming romances, the sibling squabbles and the spectacle of the circus, Scottish Ballet attempt a blizzard of emotions, but sadly the forecast ends with a flurry of confusion. Motivations cloud character interactions, and we’re never fully understanding of any. Offering brief snippets of genius, hidden in the flurry of snowflakes, Paulley’s ‘thief girl’ is mingled effortlessly into the choreography as she pirouettes around her victims. Hampson compliments the lightness of a thief, with the pointe of a dancer.

With staggering costumes, particularly make-up effects conjuring Frost Sprites, Wolves and Jack Frost’s into being, The Snow Queen does achieve a sense of wonder. In no small part due to Richard Honner’s arrangement of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s original score. As always the orchestra stands firmly level with the quality of the troupe, but this time, it outshines the movement on stage as the music, the imagery and colours steal attention away from the dancers.

As a storytelling vehicle, The Snow Queen leaves those with folklore in their blood with confusion. In trying to capture the imaginations of many, the ice is spread thinly across the board. Christopher Hampson’s choreography fails to reach the lofty heights anticipated but does still showcase the immense skill of Scottish Ballet. In seeking to position the stories of three leading ladies, The Snow Queen is unsure of how to balance these women and sadly, all three find themselves on thin ice.

The Snow Queen runs until December 29th, tickets are available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/the-snow-queen

Photo Credit -Andy Ross

Goldilocks & The Three Bears – King's Theatre

Written by Allan Stewart & Alan McHugh

Directed by Ed Curtis

Musical Direction by Andy Pickering

How on earth have we arrived at Panto season again? Nary a month ago it felt as though Beauty & The Beast was playing at The King’s Theatre in Edinburgh, and now with tremendously happy crowds, our trio returns to the stage once more. Yes, folks, not only are Allan Stewart and Grant Stott back on the stage, accompanied once more by Gillian Parkhouse, but Andy Gray returns to immense cheers of appreciation and adoration. To put it simply, it just wasn’t the same without him.

Donning his top hat, Gray commands his usual stomping ground as Andy McReekie, loving(ish) husband to the gorgeous Dame May McReekie – who, incidentally, has a new book for purchase in the lobby, she’s just too humble to mention this. Together, this fine pair run McReekie’s Circus, who do away with performing animals and preferably offer daring stunts from The Berserk Riders, or vaudeville classic The Great Juggling Alfio.

Promising the greatest show on earth, Goldilocks and the Three Bears take a playfully loose interpretation of the charming tale of cold porridge, soft beds and broken chairs. Then again, when have we known a script from Allan Stewart or Alan McHugh to stick to the source material? People want eccentricity, ludicrous stunts, and a story where the three bears may not be the stars, but there is a substantial lack of story behind the showmanship. As far as pantomime goes, Goldilocks is a by the storybook take on the genre, its visuals may be first-class, but its story is in safe hands – too safe. Jokes don’t punch as hard as they usually would, with only off the cuff banters and risqué digs at Prince Andrew causing more than a chortle.

Well, what can we say except this; if there’s any budget left for next year, someone’s fiddling the tax books. The King’s Panto has always been a piece of spectacle, from the cheesy and tacky glitz and glam of festive cheer to a grandeur worthy of Princes and Princesses. So, this year, Ian Westbrook has royally outdone himself with 3D Creations lending a hand offering; big tops, tight ropes, flaming torches and animatronic creatures of King Kong scale. And still, with a few choice surprises we dare not ruin by fear of Baron Von Vinklebottom’s whip.

On the subject of Vinklebottom, it’s awfully kind that Stewart and Gray keep employing this young Stott fellow during the festive months. A star of radio and television (we’re told) there’s certainly some acting chops beneath that Cheshire grin. Every year Stott’s adoration from the crowd for playing the vilest baddies grows deeper. It’s neigh-on impossible not to surrender over to the sadistic glee Stott manifests, the louder we boo, the more wicked the performance. Comedically, it’s a pitched performance, but what would one expect? Jabbing at the audience, rolling with the punches, Stott is showman through and through. Tragically, McHugh’s script underutilises a primary asset in Stott, who isn’t on stage nearly as much as we would hope for.

In fact, with plenty on show this evening (and not just from Dame May Reekie) it would be ill in failing to mention Andy Pickering’s musical direction, or indeed Karen Martin’s dazzling choreography. You have two chances to take a breath – once before the show starts, and another at the interval. Otherwise, blink or breath and you’ll have missed something. With superb vocals, from Cinderella to Beauty to Goldilocks, like Stott, Gillian Parkhouse is woefully underused. Performing numbers well, Parkhouse’s choreography is tight, but lyrically the numbers aren’t memorable or have staying power beyond the chorus.

Standing onstage with three panto legends is a difficult task at the best of times, for first-timer to the King’s Panto, but by no means new to the gig, Jordan Young can cut it with the best of them. Within moments, Young’s panto prowess is clear. As the trio induct Young into the beating heart of Edinburgh’s festive season, the usual Panto tropes are played on the unsuspecting Young – who, in turn, rises to adlibs, tongue twisters and fourth wall jabs. What Aberdeen may have lost in his move to Edinburgh’s panto, is this cities gain.

Excelling in all forms, going for bigger, bolder and more extreme settings and talents every year, King’s Panto manages to whet the appetite for the following years show the moment the curtain falls. How, year after year this team delivers a production which makes this city proud is unfathomable, as is the energy the team bring. This may be the early nights of a long run, but there is little doubt each performance from Stewart, Gray and Stott is conducted as if it were their first, their last and their best.

Goldilocks & The Three Bears runs at The King’s Theatre until January 19th. Tickets are available from Capital Theatres: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/goldilocks

Photo Credit: Douglas Robertson

Acosta Danza Evolution ft. Carlos Acosta – Festival Theatre

Principle Artistic Direction by Carlos Acosta

Dance doesn’t solely comprise movement, while the central aspect in a medium without voice, the ability to communicate with an audience through rhythm, music, construct and the beauty of abstract storytelling is paramount. Acosta Danza Evolution is the future of the industry, illustrating their imaginative capabilities with four pieces which, while sharing mirthful talent and passion, couldn’t be more different from one another.

Playing to their narrative strengths, Acosta retells less-recognisable stories. With the playwrighting and choreography of Adrian Silver, Sidi Larbi Cheraoui or Steven Brett, it places audiences on an even keel. Those familiar with dance may have advantages understanding technique, but there is such fresh material from the company that a sense of wonder pervades over veterans just as much as those new to the art form. Dance companies take chances to survive, or risk fading into pleasant, though archaic formats. Acosta Danza Evolution takes conceptual versatility and launches it into the air – rarely, has such amalgam of unique concepts found themselves on the same stage. From the magenta ribbons of zen-like trances, into deep haunting woodlands’ interpretations, and then to the tie-baring rockers of the Rolling Stones’ Lady Jane or Sympathy for the Devil.

Light and shade are mere toys for the artistry on show, bending the resolute which defy traditional movement, particularly for this evening’s triumphs – Satori and Faun. Never has human touch felt so valuable, given a place at the peak of the sensory exhibition as performers meld into one another’s rhythm. Two dancers, one flow, it’s staggering the synchronicity they accomplish – not only with each other but with the score. A composition which echoes the backdrop for Faun, an uncomfortable mixture of unease, yet natural wonder. A woodland setting, with a blanketing fog concealing something hidden in the distance.

Concise in colour, hypnotic in construct, designers Angelo Alberto, Karen Young, Hussein Chalayan and Marian Bruce highlight dancers with precision, straying from flash or morbid displays of tactless shades. Where utilising colour, such as the crimson trim of a dress, an injection of flavour, it’s acutely painful to consider how much thought is in the ideas process of design choices, which work subtle splendours and draw attention. Nowhere is this clearer than a simple magenta skirt, which echoes the Cuban tones of a Zapateo or Salsa. It is in the same performance, where Zeleydi Crespo’s attitude, form and costume conjures an early-Grace Jones stance of female authority. Her movements proud, strong with a paradoxical delicacy in footing.

Fiercely proud, Acosta Danza fuses their Cuban steps with pigeon-foots of Swedish, Eastern Germany, Russia and predominately European dance movement, with an obvious dash of ballet for good measure. With roots in African and Cuban dance, there’s an intensity to all four of these evenings performances, but they couldn’t be further apart in emotional context or choreography. The gravity-Morpheuslike defiance of Satori is in polar opposition to the grounded, rocker ballad battle of the sexes that is the celebration of modern music RoosterSatori’s study of stagnation, momentum through choreography are only complimented with the original score from Pepe Gavilondo’s combination of mesmerising folk, strikes against the electronic acoustics.

In 2020, Carlos Acosta will succeed David Bintley as artistic director of the Birmingham Royal ballet, gracing this evenings production with a performance. Acosta and fellow dancers stitch a needle-like precision of ballet steps, tempering them with club movements, balancing a comedic narrative throughout Rooster, demonstrating how lucky the company will be in the coming years.

Acosta Danza Evolution showcases its namesake profoundly: evolution. Paying tribute to the origins of movement, the bedrock of and African and European dance, unearthing them, throwing them to the winds to watch which will flutter into renewed life. If you have had the pleasure of seeing dance in a form such as this, it is enviable – for Acosta Danza stand apart from various troupes as innovative, bold, and yet offer a profoundly humorous approach to the art which feels akin to family. It may seek to convey mysticism, zen and even abject fear, but couldn’t be further from a welcoming atmosphere. It cannot be stated enough; whether a veteran twinkle-toes or cursed with two left feet, Evolution will enthral you.

Acosta Danza Evolution runs until November 2nd at Festival Theatre Edinburgh, and then continues on tour: http://www.acostadanza.com/en/

Photo Credit – Enrique Smith Soto, Yuris Norido and Panchito Gonzles